Hungary and Poland have blocked approval of the European Union's long-term budget and 1.8 trillion-euro ($2.1 trillion) coronavirus rescue package, pushing the bloc toward a crisis as it seeks to respond to the pandemic.
During a meeting of EU ambassadors on November 16, Budapest and Warsaw opposed tying EU funding to a new mechanism on respect for the rule of law.
The new mechanism could see Hungary and Poland lose money over what Brussels views as a rollback of democracy under the two countries' right-wing governments.
German Ambassador Michael Clauss, who chaired the meeting, warned that if the budget and stimulus are not passed soon, "the EU will face a serious crisis."
EU ambassadors voted by a qualified majority -- around two-thirds -- in favor of the rule-of-law mechanism despite objections from Hungary and Poland.
But after that, they "could not reach the necessary unanimity" to move ahead on the budget and recovery plan, Germany's spokesman in Brussels, Sebastian Fischer, tweeted.
The matter will now be taken up by ministers from member states meeting by video conference on November 17 to prepare the ground for an EU leaders' summit two days later.
Manfred Weber, leader of the center-right group in the European Parliament, called Hungary and Poland "irresponsible" for holding up funding to deal with the worst crisis in decades.
"If you respect the rule of law, there is nothing to fear," Weber said.
EU officials want the new mechanism linking the rule of law to funding to apply pressure on Hungary and Poland, both of which have been criticized for eroding judicial independence and media freedoms.
Hungary is also under scrutiny for policies targeting nongovernmental organizations and undermining civil liberties.
Despite pressure to free funding for the EU's coronavirus response, Warsaw and Budapest appeared to dig in their heels.
Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro called the rule-of-law terms of the EU budget and stimulus deal "institutional, political enslavement, a radical limitation of sovereignty."
In a weekly radio interview last week, Orban said that rule-of-law conditions resembled "ideological blackmail" practiced by the Soviet Union.
EU leaders thought they had resolved the dispute over the seven-year EU budget and associated stimulus plan at a marathon four-day-and-night summit in July.
The EU leaders' summit on November 19 was meant to focus on the coronavirus crisis, but may now be forced to address the budget standoff.